8 November: On this day in history
What events happened on 8 November in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…
8 November 1519: Conquistador Cortés meets Moctezuma
The encounter leads to the fall of the Aztec empire
On the shores of Lake Texoco, Hernán Cortés was riding towards destiny. The date was 8 November 1519 and ahead of him lay the great city of Tenochtitlán, capital of the people now known as the Aztecs. The city was teeming with life and colour, its canals and causeways lined with crowds. Nine months after he had landed at the head of a small Spanish expedition, Cortés was about to face his greatest challenge.
As Cortés’s little army rode across the causeway towards Tenochtitlán, he could see a group of locals coming towards him. In the centre was the emperor, Moctezuma, carried on a beautiful litter. Cortés was keen to make a good impression. “I dismounted and stepped forward to embrace him, but the two lords who were with him stopped me with their hands so that I should not touch him; and they likewise all performed the ceremony of kissing the earth,” he wrote afterwards to the Spanish king, Charles V. Cortés gave the emperor a pearl and glass necklace, which he solemnly put around his neck. In return, Moctezuma gave the Spanish captain two necklaces of his own.
Historians still dispute what the two men said that day. Did Moctezuma seriously believe, for example, that Cortés was a god, come to reclaim his kingdom? What is not in doubt, though, is the Spaniards’ eagerness to emphasise that they came in peace. “There is nothing to fear,” Cortés told his interpreter. “We have wanted to see him for a long time, and now we have seen his face and heard his words. Tell him that we love him well and that our hearts are contented.”
Then they went into the city. Six days later, Moctezuma was a prisoner; seven months after that, he was dead.